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Columns > Lee Abraham

Published: 2002/05/22
by Lee Abraham

Cranking Up the Volume with a New CD Review Format

Music journalism is more of an art than a science. At least thats how its always been for me. But the longer I do the freelance dance, the more I see the need to develop a system that makes banging out the high grade verbiage a little easier. Its a time management thing.

Right now Im talking specifically about CD reviews. Its no secret that one of a music journalists big perks is opening the mailbox to find a handful of CDs. Sounds good, if youll pardon the pun, but there are also strings attached. These CDs are sent by bands and public relations people in hopes of getting a favorable review published. And yeah, its great to get the CDs, but on the other hand, it sucks when theres not enough time to write a review on each and every one.

Of course, some CDs dont deserve a favorable review. No problem. Unless Im feeling particularly nasty (which is rarely), or have way too much time on my hands (which is never), I just let the clunkers gather dust so I can focus on the good stuff. At least thats the plan. Call it time management. Unfortunately though, the ugly truth is that some of the good CDs share the same fate as the clunkers deadline victims, never to be reviewed.

So in an effort to increase productivity, Ive created a new, two part format for CD reviews. The first part is to simply describe the music in ten words or so, followed by similarly brief artist info.

Something like, Funky dance grooves with horns, bluesy guitar and sultry female vocals from San Diegos Wise Monkey Orchestra, or Dreamy soundscapes featuring exotic percussion, flutes, bass and guitar by Soundstream from Las Vegas.

Part two is a four category scorecard to quantify the strengths and weaknesses of a new release, which at least in theory, should be easier and more time efficient than the traditional creative writing method.

The four categories are:

1) Strength and originality of material.
2) Musicianship
3) Quality of the production how good does the CD sound?
4) Artwork, liner notes and packaging

Obviously, not all of the categories are equally important, so to accurately reflect each individual categorys contributory value to the work as a whole, Im using a carefully engineered point system based on a perfect score of 100 points.

Heres how it works: each category is worth the following points: material and musicianship are both worth 35 points each; production is worth 20 points; and artwork, liner notes packaging are good for a combined total of 10 points.

Each category is rated on a score of 1 to 10, which is then multiplied by the categorys points. Add all four category’s point scores together and you get the CDs rating based on the following table:

90 to 100 points = excellent – everyone should buy this CD
79 to 89 points = good – fans of the artist or musical genre will love this CD
65 to 78 points = not bad – the artist’s family and friends will love this CD
64 points and less = weak – only the artist’s PR people could love this CD

Okay, I guess thats it for this month. I was planning on doing a few CD reviews to demonstrate how the system works, but the deadline for this column has already come and gone, so I really need to cut out here. Like I said, its a time management thing.

Lee Abraham is a freelance writer currently on assignment in Ocean Beach, CA. Check out his Adventures In Music Journalism website at or contact him directly at

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